Black Bean Soup with Cotija and Crema
I often have cooked beans on hand (in the fridge or freezer) and use them to make either a soup or refried beans or some other bean dish. You can make this recipe with uncooked beans as I instruct below, or use already cooked beans, sauteeing the vegetables, adding the beans and stock and continuing to cook and puree.
To soak or not to soak? I have read various articles (here, here and here) with opinions spanning from soaking to not soaking to boiling briefly before cooking. There seem to be a new wave that say that soaking is not necessary, does not shorten the cooking time and diminishes the flavour and nutritional value of the beans. I have asked my Mexican friends here and most don’t soak. Old habits die hard though and I still soak them, especially at home in Canada where everything is so dry. The beans here in Mexico cook so muchfaster than the beans I find in Canada. I wonder if it has to do with freshness, humidity or what, but soaked beans here cook in half and hour in my experience, while in Canada they take hours. Another issue is adding salt to the cooking beans. The general consensus is not adding salt until the end, as salt can harden the outer shell of the beans and make them more difficult to cook through.
One of the secret ingredients for cooking beans in Mexico is the local herb epazote. I have never seen it sold in Canada fresh but this year I intend to grow it in my rooftop herb garden. It is used for cooking beans, especially black beans or soups, and when I cook beans here I always use it. Epazote is a green leafy indigenous herb that has been used by Mayan for both cooking and medicinal purposes. I add a few leaves to a pot of cooking beans, and later puree it into the beans or sometimes remove it. I am not aware of any substitutions for epazote so if you don’t have it, just omit it. You can buy it online dried but I have only seen it used fresh here.
2 cups dried black beans, soaked overnight
6-8 cups water or stock
3 tablespoon oil
1 onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 jalapeno, seeded and chopped
2 small tomatoes, fire roasted and chopped
1 sprig epazote
1 cup red salsa, preferably home made.
A handful cilantro, chopped
Cotija cheese, or queso fresco or feta
Mexican crema (replace with creme fraiche or stirred sour cream
Fried tortilla strips
Rinse and sort through the beans, then place in a bowl, cover with plenty of water and let soak over night (read above re soaking). Be sure the beans are covered with water the whole time, adding water as necessary. Drain the beans when ready to proceed.
Heat the oil in a skillet, add onion and cook until softened but nor browned.
Add the garlic and cook until softened being careful not to brown it.
Add the jalapeno and tomatoes and cook for a couple of minutes.
Add the drained beans, epazote and enough stock to cover the beans by and inch or two. Raise the heat and bring to a boil.
Lower heat and simmer, partially covered until the beans are almost cooked through.
Add the salsa and salt to taste and finish cooking the beans.
Puree the beans to a smooth consistency or leave some texture, It’s up to you. You can use an immersion blender for this.
Taste for salt.
Pour some soup into soup bowls, scatter a little cheese and cilantro on top and drizzle with crema.
Note: a few strips of fried tortillas are nice with the soup, forgot to put them on before I photographed.